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The Working Actor

Why ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ Should Apply to Your Career

Why ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ Should Apply to Your Career
Photo Source: Hanna Barczyk

As a child, I knew I wanted to act for the rest of my life. I also knew that Hollywood didn’t need me—I would have to claw my way in and make myself a valuable addition to a storytelling team so they’d let me stay. If I could go back and advise myself on how to manage my own psychology, I’d say this:

Trust that you’re enough. You probably hate that, you ambitious young buck. You want to be an actor more than anything; that drive is powerful, but it’s a double-edged sword. A golfer practices by breaking down the mechanics and minutiae of his swing, exploring possible variations in technique. But then comes the time to go onto the course and play. That means letting go of the prep and trusting your innate sense of play. Work hard, but play with ease.

READ: Presence: What It Is, How to Get It + Why It’s Vital to an Actor’s Success

There’s no denying it’s a competitive field, with more actors than parts available. You can choose to see the landscape as a dog-eat-dog world, or you can believe that there’s enough pie to go around. The latter—an admittedly optimistic outlook—has made my life much happier. I used to look around the waiting room and see very similar-looking guys all wearing similar outfits, and I’d see enemies instead of fellow artists chasing the Hollywood dream. You’re not in the ring with those other actors—you’re on the golf course by yourself, and the script is the course. Play it to the fullest of your ability. If it’s truly your role, there’s nothing anyone can do to get in the way.

You are just beginning. If my infant niece, who is learning to walk, falls down, she doesn’t beat herself up or care if you laugh. She’s supposed to fall down. It’s a natural learning process. There was a time in my career where I felt like I was over the hill. It’s easy to feel you’ll never get back to the peak when you’re in a valley. Then a wonderful acting coach, Leigh Kilton-Smith, shook me awake and reminded me that I was just beginning. Adopting this attitude of always being a novice, being eager to learn, not resting on my laurels, and shedding any sense of entitlement reinvigorated my life and my career. There isn’t much at stake when you’re always just beginning.

Remember why you do it. Become a craftsman and nurture your love of the process. Don’t put too much stock in the results—they’re fickle and unpredictable. Let career success be a byproduct of the goal, and let the goal be intimately personal and selfish: Each role is an opportunity for self-discovery and a chance to play in such a full way that others are compelled to join. There’s no A+; this isn’t the classroom, it’s the playground. Don’t wait to win an award to express gratitude for your people. Live a full life; it’s the clay actors mold from.

Oh, and cultivate mentorships. Give them credit whenever you can, especially when you write something in Backstage. I’m looking at you, Andrew Magarian, Ivana Chubbuck, and John Markland.

Jenkins currently stars in Freeform’s new romantic teen drama “Famous in Love,” alongside Bella Thorne.

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